Plagiarism as a Personal Compulsion or a Postmodern Exercise

In a recent post, Aaron Barlow referenced Shia LaBeouf’s recent plagiarism of much of Justin M. Clowes’s independent short film, Justin M. Damiano, in his own independent short film, HowardCantour.com.

I don’t think that it is an exaggeration to assert that exponentially more people have heard or read about the plagiarism than have seen either of the films—never mind both of the films, which is the only way in which a viewer would actually be able to identify the plagiarism.

Moreover, given the economics of independent short films, the issue is clearly more a matter of principle, whether ethical or aesthetic, than an issue of financial loss and compensation.

In any case, in response to the media attention to his plagiarism, LaBeouf issued an apology.

Shortly afterwards, someone discovered that his apology for plagiarizing Clowes’s film had itself been plagiarized from a post to Yahoo Answers.

In response to that revelation that he had plagiarized his apology for plagiarism, LaBeouf has issued two subsequent apologies.

Vulture, the popular culture blog of New York magazine, has, however, revealed that those two apologies have also been plagiarized—the first from the late Jade Goody, who apologized for her apparent racism on Celebrity Big Brother, and the second from Mr. Marcus, a star of pornographic movies, who apologized for concealing his syphilis from his fellow actors while making several films.

So now the question is whether LaBeouf simply cannot help himself or he has from the start viewed the charge of plagiarism as the premise for a sort of extended postmodernist prank.

If the latter seems the case, should we approach this episode as we would an extended conceit in a novel by Thomas Pynchon or John Barth? Should we start to consider the implications in LaBeouf’s choosing to plagiarize these particular apologies? And if we devote any time and effort to these considerations, are we elucidating the dimensions of a postmodernist prank or are we, in fact, falling victim to such a prank? (And at what point, do we question asking such questions about anything related to Shia LaBeouf?)

Still, beyond what may or may not be going on in LaBeouf’s mind, beyond what he may be intentionally or opportunistically doing, can we say anything definitive about the legitimacy of what he has done? At what point, if any, does the plagiarism become a distinct, if not independent work? At what point, if any, does it become the literary equivalent of musical sampling?

And at what point, if any, does it make any difference if the initial plagiarism was deliberate or not?

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